Climbing the STEMM ladder – the challenges of a male dominated industry

We’ve identified many of the social challenges associated with gender inequality across science, technology, engineering, maths and medicine disciplines, including unconscious bias (e.g. the bias that leads many to associate ‘scientist’ with ‘man’) and a lack of female role models and recognition for women achieving great things in STEMM.

Together, these factors contribute to the lack of girls choosing STEMM subjects at school, studying STEMM degrees and consequently entering the workforce. But on the other side of the same coin is those women already in STEMM careers, who face organisational challenges that hinder their ability to climb the ladder and contribute to many of them leaving the field. In Australia, women make up 48% of junior research positions, but only 21.2% of senior research positions. Why does the number drop so significantly as we look higher up the ranks?

There are certain barriers that exist when an industry is “male-dominated”. It becomes a hard and rigid process for many women to advance their careers when they look around and find they are the only woman in the room, or when they grapple with the perception they can have a career or a family, not both.

A report by Professionals Australia published earlier this year found that the primary barriers to women already in STEMM progressing their careers were:

  • Balancing work/life responsibilities – this tends to slow down the rate at which women can progress in their careers in many institutions within the STEMM workforce
  • Workplace culture – the direct or indirect practices and policies within a workplace that excluded or disadvantaged women (this includes sexist comments, the notion of a ‘boys club’, and the tendency to not take women as seriously as men)
  • A lack of access to senior roles for women – many women who have returned from parental leave had been demoted to accommodate for their responsibilities as a parent

This is not a conclusive list. Other factors include feelings of isolation as a woman in the workplace, limited access to networks, and minimal career support. In her blog, Dr. Julie Wheway noted that the biggest thing she felt she was missing while working in the research sector was mentorship from other female senior scientists.

It’s important for anyone, in any job, in any industry to feel supported in their work and have access to people and resources that will help them succeed. That goes for STEMM too. Women need support from women, and men – they need mentors, they need flexibility, they need choice.

Are you in a woman in STEMM who has faced these organisational challenges? We’d love to hear your story and extend the dialogue about what needs to be done on a personal and organisational level to overcome these hurdles. Comment below or contact us here


2 thoughts on “Climbing the STEMM ladder – the challenges of a male dominated industry

  1. Sasha Elias

    What a great article! Couldn’t have said it better myself.

    It is interesting that not just some women, but ALL women face these challenges in some stage of their careers. Whether it be finding your first position that isn’t in a male dominated team, or climbing the STEMM ladder from a young-adult age to only realise you are the only female on the board.

    Women in the tech industry are specifically isolated these days, because the education industry also doesn’t promote females in IT. This makes is specifically hard for women to even break into the market to begin climbing the ladder, because of the lack of skills the education sector is providing them with.

    I’d actually love for you to join our Women in Tech – Leadership Edition breakfast at LinkedIn offices in Sydney next Thursday. The meetup event aims to bring together women across the industry to discuss one of the biggest challenges companies face today- fixing the workplace gender imbalance in technology.

    By bringing together women in leadership roles, we will look to understand the challenges they’ve faced throughout their career, insights into why the industry is so imbalanced, and pull together actionable ideas that they can bring into their personal and professional lives to start impacting change.

    Follow the link to secure a ticket!


  2. Hi Sasha,
    Thanks for your comment!

    We agree that change needs to occur at all levels of society – including the education sector to get girls interested or committed to a career in STEMM and equip them with the skills they need to enter the industry. Considering the explosion of technology in our digital world it is more important than ever before we ensure brilliant minds (female and male) are driving the technological revolution which impacts everyone’s daily lives and the way we connect.

    Thanks for sharing your upcoming event. I had a look at the lineup of speakers and it looks like a great session which will directly address the underlying issues preventing women from entering the tech industry or advancing their careers. Looking forward to it!



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